I spent most of 2008 driving a gimpy 1997 GMC Sonoma. Its clutch and master cylinder were on their last legs. It had the typical niggling problems of a cheap American-made light truck. Every night, I’d park it next to my wife’s 2006 Subaru Outback Sport and feel a pang of jealousy. She was nice enough to let me drive when we’d go somewhere together. But sliding into the Subaru’s left seat only enhanced my jealousy.
Just before Thanksgiving that year, I spotted a 2006 Subaru Forester for sale at a local dealership. A nice, simple silver finish. A five-speed manual transmission. Only 12,000 miles on it. I’d spent recent months researching Subaru prices, and I was heavily loaded with facts and a line of credit. I spent an afternoon with a finance manager and salesman, and drove home in the Forester at exactly the price I presented to them.
Here’s what I’ve learned about driving a Subaru since that day.
Tire repairs can be a pain. If you have more than 10,000 miles on your tires and you get a flat in your Subaru, be prepared to change them all if the puncture is in an awkward spot. Apparently, the tires must be closely matched or you risk damaging your transfer case. Sometimes, tire shops can fix the tire. But if a puncture is in a difficult spot, be ready to grab a new set.
Aside from oil changes and regular service, your Subaru won’t spend much time in the shop. Every 3,000 miles, I get an oil change. Every 15,000, I get some minor services added to that. Every 30,000 miles, I’m looking at about $500 in preventative maintenance. At short of 50,000 miles, my Forester has never been in the shop for anything but scheduled maintenance. My wife has experienced the same with her Outback Sport. I’ll take the ounce of prevention over the pound of cure.
Safety comes from great handling. Both Subarus in the family cling to the ground in steep, flat, dry and wet conditions. They handle corners with precision and stop on demand. They help us deal safely with erratic drivers. It’s easy to forget how remarkable they handle until we wind up in a non-Subaru rental car. It’s like being Superman for one drive, then wearing a Kryptonite necklace on the one.
For rocky off-road bits, I would love an extra-low gear in my Forester. The five-speed transmission is geared nicely for the highway, but it could be a lot better for steep off-road conditions. Despite having a bit less clearance, the automatic-equipped Outback Sport is actually a bit better in some off-road conditions thanks to its lower gears.
The layout is logical and simple. Compared to “do-everything” nanny cars with automatic everything and dashboards loaded with digital displays, the Forester and Outback Sport keep it simple. Every gauge, dial and knob is easy to access. There are no arcane, incomprehensible icons for simple tasks.
My Forester has an occasional mystery problem. Every now and then, it will temporarily refuse to start. I’ll depress the clutch, turn the key, and only get the sound of electronics and the whirring of the starter. The problem has flummoxed a few mechanics, and I still have no resolution. The situation only arises in wet weather, and/or when the gas tank is down to one-eighth or less. One dealer replaced the clutch switch; I tested it by letting the fuel level drop to an eighth or lower, and the tic reared its head again. I mentioned the problem to Subaru USA’s customer service, which couldn’t suggest anything to try. I even tried sending it to the customer relations vice president, and never got a response. I’m still not thrilled that it happens, but I seem to be able to keep it under control by watching my fuel.
Though the “not starting” problem concerns me, the entire Subaru ownership experience has been very positive. The Forester and Outback Sport are both rugged and dependable. They’re also safe and stable. My experiences driving competing crossover vehicles from Dodge and Chevy have proven that other manufacturers have a long way to go to catch Subaru.